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College life during a global pandemic

I somehow managed to get the grocery bags onto my wrists but looked at the case of water sitting on my backseat and wondered how I was supposed to get those up the stairs? I barely got them in the car by myself. Guess I’m making two trips, I thought.

I lived in a residential college that was home to some of the football players. I saw two huge teenage boys walking up to the dorm. Surely they could carry the water for me, but I didn’t know them and I didn’t want them to come to my room. They wouldn’t be allowed in my hall due to guidelines anyway. They weren’t wearing masks either. Dang it, my mask. I left it in the car. I have to go back.

Living alone for the first time is hard enough, but doing so during a pandemic is another level.

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I packed up everything from my teenage bedroom into plastic Tupperware bins and moved 200 miles away. My family tried to help me get settled, but they couldn’t stay. I watched my dad put together my Dirt Cheap futon and turn around to head back home. Home. This had to be my home now.

The word home feels comfy. It feels like lying on my soft couch with my blankets and my cat; cracking jokes with my siblings; eating homemade meals; and watching Andy Griffith before bed. It feels like freshly brewed coffee in the morning and my dog’s bark as a soundtrack to my day.

College was cold. It was quiet. The only noise I heard was the hum of my room’s AC unit and music from another room down the hall. It consisted of clumsily carrying a case of water up two flights of stairs and fumbling for my keys with no one to help.

Classes would start and then immediately shut down when my peers received a positive test. I may have gone to class a grand total of six times. My classroom was my Dirt Cheap futon in my big, cold, quiet dorm room. My dorm was also my cafeteria, library and study room because the actual places were closed. Every doorway was covered with red and blue signs with those scary words of “Do Not Enter,” “Six Feet Apart,” “Mask Required,” “Capacity: 2” They weren’t huge, but their message was. To me, it felt like it was saying, “You are not welcome here.”

The masks hindered the rare occasions where I could attend class. It felt like the only way to communicate with anyone was to scream across the six-foot gap and the cloth coverings. Who are these people? I mainly spent half of the time trying to imagine how the rest of their face looked.

One day I was escaping the stuffiness of my room with some retail therapy and I found a $10 outdoor blanket in the summer section of Walmart. The blanket became my college. I spent hours outside laying on that blanket — eating, painting, watching Netflix, writing essays and Face Timing home. It was the only place where things felt normal. On the blanket, there were no masks, no distance, no signs above my head reminding me that this wasn’t what college is supposed to be: just soft grass, pretty clouds and an occasional bumblebee visit.

When I would come back home to visit, everyone would ask how college was going. I couldn’t help but think — what college? What class? Have I even learned anything except where I can and can’t go or the fines for each COVID-19 offense?

After some time, the rules seemed less binding, and I learned to appreciate life even with them. I still managed to make some friends, new traditions and formed new habits. It meant eating out a lot and having to change plans constantly, but it was worth it. Just like everything, it gets better in time.

When I look back on that year, I want to primarily think about all of the laughs and amazing things I learned outside of my hometown. However, I don’t ever want to forget how difficult going to college during a pandemic was. It helped me learn how to find moments of good even in the bad. After all, I lived through a moment of history. We all did.

Emmaline Wolfe is summer intern for The Daily Leader. She can be reached at news@dailyleader.com.